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Top 5 activities in the Lot Valley, France

Posted by at 06:11 on Tuesday 25 October 2011

The Lot Valley is one of France's best kept secrets. All the fine cuisine, rustic villages, markets and general French charm of the Dordogne, but without the crowds. One of the most striking things about the region is the varied landscape: in one day you can go from rocky, heath covered highlands through thick ancient forest to vast uninhabited lakes. With this variety comes some fantastic outdoor activities. Here's our top five… 

Learning the ropes at OSCA. Photo: Lucy GeeLearning the ropes at OSCA. Photo: Lucy Gee

View Bison in their natural habitat. Photo: Holly TuppenView Bison in their natural habitat. Photo: Holly Tuppen1. Go on safari
Few know about the mini Yellowstone that sits in the middle of the remote region of Lozere, France. Both the Bison Reserve and Wolf Park provide visitors with the best chance to see these animals without leaving Europe. The Bison Park holds more than 30 Bison, of both the North American and European species, in a large forested area. Guides take visitors around the park on horse and cart, ensuring you see the bison up close and learn about the animal's history and the creation of the park. The reserve also has a cafe that serves lunches, teas and coffees and there is a good little museum on site for rainy days. The Wolf Park is a couple of exits away on the A75 but sits in similar remote territory. Here there are more than 130 wolves and high platforms make viewing the allusive animals easier than is often the case in zoos and reserves.
>> See places to visit in Lozere

Drifting down the crystal clear Lot River. Photo: Holly TuppenDrifting down the crystal clear Lot River. Photo: Holly Tuppen2. Paddle along rivers and lakes
Based on the River Lot in the pretty village of Vieillevie, Asv'Olt is one of the largest kayak and canoe hire centres in the region. The river here is about 6m wide and has a strong enough stream that there are plenty of opportunities to sit back and float along in the sun. If you're lucky you might even spot a kingfisher or an otter. The centre is run by Edith and Jean-Claude, who's passion for the sport ripples through everything they offer. Kayaks and all necessary equipment are available to hire for a day, half a day or for a 3 - 4 day trip. The centre has set itineraries that they print out for guests, meaning you have to think about very little other than turning up. Guides are available if you are apprehensive about setting off alone and there are lessons for beginners if you'd rather not go on a whole trip.
>> See what to do in Aveyron 

If a jaunt around a lake is more appealing then the water recreation centre, Dam'Nature, between Chaudes-Aigues and Saint Flour in South Cantal is a good bet. This lake is the most remote of all the Truyere Gorges, weaving through dramatic cliffs, circled by short-toed eagles and other birds of prey. There is a small island at one end of the lake, which has been turned into a mini camping base complete with fire pit, tipis and a compost toilet. As well as kayaks the centre can organise canoeing, rafting, archery, mountain biking and dragon boat racing, for those in a bigger group. The centre itself was rebuilt in July 2011 and now houses a bar and coffee shop that serves BBQ food on the lakeside terrace throughout the summer. Dam'Nature also provides winter activities including snow carting and snow shoeing in the hills around the lake. >> See what to do in Cantal 

Hands free trekking with a donkey. Photo: Lucy GeeHands free trekking with a donkey. Photo: Lucy Gee3. Walk like a pilgrim 
The medieval town of Conques has been a focal point for pilgrims on their way to Santiago, on the Camino de Santiago, since the 12th Century. The town itself is well worth a visit, with its dramatic cathedral and twisting cobbled streets, and there's no better way to arrive than on foot. The many walking routes in the area are all excellently signposted and offer something for all levels. If you like the idea of walking but are not that keen on carrying luggage or getting lost then the donkey hire and walking company, Les Anes de Monedies, is on hand to help. Pier and Michelle who run this organisation know the local walking routes and the Camino like the backs of their hands and have 30 healthy donkeys waiting to head out into the hills. The donkeys can be hired for anything between one day to three months and Michelle and Pier can help you plan a route, provide packed lunches, arrange necessary transport and provide maps and instructions. You can chose between one of their itineraries, during which they organise your accommodation, or pick up the pilgrimage route, which has specific pilgrim hostels every night. >> See what to do in Aveyron  

Learning the ropes at OSCA. Photo: Lucy GeeLearning the ropes at OSCA. Photo: Lucy Gee4. Scale a cliff
On the dramatic cliffs of Gorges Tarn in Lozere is one of Europe's best Via Ferreta courses for beginners - a climbing circuit set into the cliffs with metallic bars, walkways and ropes. The sheer drop down makes getting started slightly nerve-wracking but before long you get accustomed to being at one with the mountain side, enjoying the panoramic views of Lozere as you leap from cliff to cliff. Professional guides at the Centre de Nature OSCA take groups up to the course for two hour sessions throughout the summer. The centre has a huge range of activities and so if you have less of a head for heights try mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking or caving.
>> See what to do in Lozere

5. Hike around a volcanoe
An ancient church in the highlands of the cantal. Photo: Holly TuppenAn ancient church in the highlands of the cantal. Photo: Holly TuppenThe Cantal region is home to Europe's largest extinct volcanoe, whose sweeping views and dramatic ridges has created a walkers paradise. Fertile soils makes this an excellent place to experience wild flowers in Spring when the Plomb du Cantal, Puy Mary and surrounding mountains light up with colour. Throughout the year you are guaranteed to walk into the peaceful, ruddy coloured Aubrac cows, whose tinkling cow bells will export you to the Swiss Alps, and in the summer it is also possible to sight wild boar and roe deer. Many GR walking routes pass through the region and since the area is so high, you can't really go wrong when it comes to picking the best route for views. If exploring the 1800m high mountains and surrounding forests in the snowy quiet of winter is more appealing then snow shoeing and cross country skiing is available. For guides and places to stay I would recommend the beautifully converted farmhouse La Roussier, whose owner, Christian is an accredited mountain guider in summer and winter and speaks good English. Alternatively head to the Auberge des Montagnes in Paiherols, a small mountain side village that has all the facilities of a ski resort in a quaint and intimate setting.
>> See where to stay in Cantal, or for a general overview of Cantal go to Greentraveller's Guide to Cantal

>> For more information about the Lot Valley including where to stay, eat, visit and how to get there by train see Greentraveller's Guide to the Lot Valley

Rolling hills as far as the eye can see. Photo: Holly TuppenRolling hills as far as the eye can see. Photo: Holly Tuppen

Disclosure

Blogs posts categorised as 'Reviews' have been written with the support of one or more of the following: accommodation owner, activity provider, operator, equipment supplier, tourist board, protected landscape authority or other destination-focussed authority. The reviewer retains full editorial control of the work, which has been written in the reviewer's own words based on their experience of the accommodation, activity, equipment or destination.

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